When I ponder existence, and sense the passage of time and all the things that have taken place since I was a child, it is a cosmos unto itself -- this point of being that I inhabit is the entire universe, for this point of being. It's a mystery that cannot be penetrated, only lived within.
Recently, despite what have undeniably been many years of, among other things, the deepest joy in life, I have found myself in a state where I consistently discover that I am having negative reactions towards all the doctors of joy and doctors of happiness out there. Everywhere I turn, it seems that I am being exhorted by advertisements, books, magazines, and so on -- both secular and sacred -- to be happy, to be fulfilled, for everything to be wonderful.
I regret to report that in my experience, it is not this easy.
We need to experience the fullness of life. That fullness must include everything; it must include the "bad" as well as the "good," and it must include the full depth of experience of the "bad" along with an organic acknowledgment that this, too, is an inescapable fact of human condition that cannot be erased by feel-good philosophies.
One thing that Mme. DeSalzmann consistently said in her writings and when she spoke was that we must learn to be. She did not say, we must be this way or be that way. She simply said that we must make the effort to be.
This is distinct from the many teachings, philosophies, psychologies and religious ideas that we encounter in what one might call ordinary life. In this world we live in, we are constantly being told that we shouldn't be this way, we ought to be that way; we should be happy, not sad; fulfilled, not frustrated; and so on. In particular the Christian and Buddhist industries -- in the United States more than anywhere -- have generated a massive amount of well-meaning and heartfelt propaganda aimed at telling us how we can transform ourselves to be wonderful, for life to be wonderful, for life to be filled with joy.
Lest I begin to sound like the irascible curmudgeon that I actually am, let me state unequivocally that I fully support this idea of being joyful and wonderful and happy. I think that this is a good ordinary aim. All of us should have it.
I think the point -- at least from my perspective -- is that those of us who search, who search deeply and without any great mercy towards ourselves, for what is actually true in life are called to discover an aim that is not ordinary, but extraordinary.
That is to say, the aim is to go beyond what is ordinary in life -- the search for ordinary pleasure, which is as strong in me as in anyone -- and toward something that asks a greater question. This requires me to do something which is in itself extraordinary -- I must go beyond the bliss.
And this is not a step a man can take easily, because it demands the surrender of something magnificent in the hopes--and the risk--of going further.
Why dare do such a thing? Why would any of us give up what appears to be perfection, if we should perchance attain it?
Functioning here, as usual, as a reporter rather than as a teacher, I can't say for any other person what that greater question, that question that lies beyond the bliss and the joy, is or should be. In my own case, the question keeps changing, so that it constantly draws me deeper into this unknowing of life, this recognition that I do not know what life is despite the fact that I am constantly within it. According to his own report, that is the quintessential question that drew P. D. Ouspensky to Gurdjieff in the early years of the 20th century, triggering a series of events that changed the world of esoteric spirituality. This single question, and perhaps this question alone, has the power to change one's inner cosmos.
And it is in my ongoing movement deeper into the question of what this life consists of, with the consequent seeing of negativity -- the seeing of it, not the attempt to fix it -- yes, it is in this movement itself that I discover the act of living.
Instead of trying to be this way, or be that way, and listening to audio recordings telling us how to be, and reading books by people who supposedly know which way to be, our effort can, conversely, be reconfigured: to simply discover how to Be.
That being must be radical -- it must spring from the root -- and it must not be conditioned by expectations or statements about what it should be. It must, in a very real and practical sense, be expunged of all our ordinary expectations like happiness and unhappiness. This may sound cruel or too demanding, but those who have on occasion approached a fundamental sense of the organic depth of the sorrow of our mortality will perhaps begin to understand where I am coming from, and what I believe we must move towards.
The great Zen masters such as Dogen profoundly understood this point of work. That is almost certainly why Mme. DeSalzmann, as her work evolved, adopted the Zen practice of sitting, and made it what is now a standard fixture in the Work.
Mme. DeSalzmann was relentless in her effort to point men and women around her in this direction. This direction where we have the question of Being in front of us. Not the question of happiness; not the question of right action; not the question of what one should do or how one ought to act, but the question of how to inhabit the act of Being.
The immense gravity that the forces of ordinary life emit constantly draw us away from this question. They are of enormous power. It is only by standing in opposition to that gravity-- yes, perhaps even in opposition to these external forces that relentlessly demand that we be happy and normal and wonderful -- that we can hope to acquire something for ourselves that is real.
This does not mean that we shouldn't be happy, normal, and wonderful.
May the living light of Christ discover us.